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My New Years Wish List for Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Thu Dec 30th, 2010 at 07:20:14 PM EST

The Christmas to New Year period is traditionally when I draw breath and take time out to think about the year ahead. For Ireland, 2010 has been about as traumatic a year as we have faced in the last century, ranking with the insurrection of 1916; the Civil War in 1922; the economic war with Britain in the I930's; the "Emergency" as the Second World War was called in Ireland; the Mother and child scheme debacle which marked the high point of Rome Rule in Ireland in 1950/51; and the cataclysmic events of Bloody Sunday in 1972 which undermined the constitutional civil rights movement, radicalised nationalism, and led to a 30 years urban guerilla war between the Provisional IRA and Britain. Some may challenge this assertion on the grounds that no one died in the banking bail-out. However the cutbacks in health care, social welfare and infrastructural development will do nothing but harm to Ireland's mortality rate.

The political fall-out from the Irish banking crisis, where the Irish Government effectively took 50% of Irish GDP's worth of public money and gave it to the mostly foreign banks who were private investors in private Irish banks, is still working its way through the Irish political system.  A General election is expected to take place sometime in or around March 2011 and all polls predict a humiliating defeat for Fianna Fail, the dominant ruling party in Ireland since 1932.  Some commentators caution that such polls often don't pan out that way in practice, and that, in any case, dramatic falls from grace by ruling parties are often subsequently reversed, as in Denmark in 1973 and Canada in 1993.

My great fear is that the election could result in not very much change at all, with an equally conservative Fine Gael Party largely taking over from Fianna Fail as the dominant government party pursuing policies only cosmetically different from the austerity drive now agreed between the Government, the ECB and the IMF.  For the moment, the TINA narrative is taking hold, and those few economists and others arguing for a default or radical renegotiation of the ECB/IMF deal remain very much voices from outside the establishment.  National confidence has taken a huge beating, and many people simply do not see taking on the EU and the international "financial community" as a viable option, particularly as it is claimed the government will now have to start drawing down those ECB/IMF loans to further bail-out the banks and to fund current government expenditure from mid 2011 onwards.


Fine Gael has taken the opportunity to have a go at what they see as a hugely inefficient and bloated public sector, as if that was the cause of all our woes. Expenditure abuses and inefficiencies certainly did, and to a lesser extent, still do, exist.  But they are minuscule compared to to the abuses in the private banking sector and the property speculation business it funded.  To some extent it is a case of old money (Fine Gael) getting its own back at the slightly less old (Fianna Fail) which only discovered its "entrepreneurial" instincts since the 1960's, and which came unstuck rather dramatically with the financial abuses of the naughties.  It certainly isn't about a radical overhaul of the Irish society class structure, or a fundamental rethink about how the Irish Nation should be led in the years ahead.

Too often Labour has just been the rather smug make-weight between the two, making up whatever numerical deficit stood between either Fianna Fail or Fianna Gael and a governing majority.  There was a time when "the Seventies will be Socialist" Labour genuinely tried to provide an alternative.  But too often its appeal is based on marginally more redistributive policies or claims to managerial probity and competence.  Now it is becoming the party of refuge for those public sector workers who feel betrayed by both Fianna Fail and Fianna Gael, but that liaison could prove very short-lived indeed if Labour, as is their norm, end up becoming the junior partner in an austerity driven Fine Gael led administration.

Perhaps the most damaging legacy of the "Celtic Tiger" era is the degree of greed and cynicism it spawned.  Almost gone is the youthful idealism often seen during my youth and few seem to engage in politics for anything other than personal career advancement.  The very notion that you might embark on a career in public service in order to further to the common good seems more likely to be greeted by yawns, guffaws, cynicism or just plain ridicule. The calibre of public representatives is thus very low: good local constituency workers, assiduous funeral attenders, a few popular publicans, solicitors, auctioneers, teachers and former sportsmen - but almost none who are outstandingly articulate, major intellects, consummate legislators or experienced in leading large organisations.

None of which would matter too much if the calibre of the Civil Service leadership teams had remained high.  But here too a culture of time serving, place holding, mutual back-scratching, and fawning incompetence seems to have taken hold.  There is little evidence of intellectual capability - no Keynes, or no Dr. T.K. Whitaker, who is often given much of the credit for the 1960's turnaround in the Irish economy.  Now many of our brightest and best are emigrating and the country risks becoming once again the stagnant cesspool of maudlin self pity and scapegoat seeking so reminiscent of my early youth.

Except I don't think that this is what is going to happen.

Firstly, at a political level, Sinn Féin will pose a significant threat to Labour and force a more assertive leftward stance. Labour in Government, even as the junior partner, will have to insist on a substantial renegotiation of the ECB/IMF deal or face its own obliteration at the polls in due course when that deal results in unsustainable interest payments and a spiralling descent into sustained depression as the debt/GDP ratio rises ever further.  With Morgan Kelly, David McWilliams and others shouting ever louder from the newspaper rooftops, it will no longer be possible to claim TINA or that they had no choice.

People are looking for a choice, and if Labour does not provide it, they will look elsewhere.  Enter, stage left, Sinn Féin and a variety of independents, many of them with a distinctly redder hue than the mildly pink "smoked salmon" socialist tinge so often associated with the Labour party in Ireland. As yet Labour is making no sustained alternative argument to the ECB/IMF austerity plan - preferring to look backwards and continue blaming Fianna Fail for the misguided banking guarantee and bail-out. That point is generally accepted but what people really want to know is what different policies are Labour going to pursue in the future?

It is hardly a coincidence that Labour is now well behind Fine Gael having briefly been the most popular party in Ireland in previous polls in June and September. Recent gains have been by Fine Gael and Sinn Féin - at the expense of Fianna Fail and Labour - so it is high time that Labour abandon the shallow populist policies more commonly associated with Fianna Fail. Fianna Fail is now at rock bottom (13-17% in recent polls) and so there are no more votes to be had from that quarter. If Labour is to recover first position it is going to have to win the economic argument with Fine Gael and compete with Sinn Féin.

So my wish list for the new year is an election as soon as possible fought on actual policy proposals and arguments rather than personalities and with the electorate given a real choice.  We've had enough of Civil War politics and the parties arising from that conflict.  It's time for a new political dispensation in Ireland.  So far a variety of small groups have sprung up to try and meet that need, but the most fundamental change required is a re-polarisation of Irish politics away from civil war to civil consent.  

The days of governments playing fast and loose with public money must be over. Scape-goating the poor and the public service will not wash. In today's integrated, globalised financial world, the "Irish" banks are no more Irish than Microsoft's Irish operations.  If the international financial community want to invest in Ireland, they must bear the risks as well as the profits. And if Merkel wants to punish the profligate, she had better start with the banks closer to her home which made some very bad investment decisions and which had no call on Irish taxpayer's resources - or the public infrastructural investment, health care, social welfare and educational services for which they should have been deployed.

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Frank, yer getting quite good at this!

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Dec 30th, 2010 at 07:05:56 PM EST
He is, but it will likely be 2011 before i can actually read this.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaďs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Fri Dec 31st, 2010 at 03:01:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Take your time.  I will send you a test in 4 hours...

q. 1 who is credited with engineering the Irish economic renaissance in the 1960's?

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 31st, 2010 at 03:14:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The magic one-horned pony kept in the stables of one Dr. T. K. Whithectare?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaďs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Fri Dec 31st, 2010 at 03:40:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maith an buachaill

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 31st, 2010 at 09:22:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Development agency urges default - The Irish Times - Fri, Dec 31, 2010
Ireland should learn from the examples of third world and developing countries and default on bank debt, development agency Afri (Action from Ireland) has said.

Irish bank debt should be cancelled on the grounds that it is unjust and unsustainable, and the EU IMF bail-out deal should be renegotiated Afri chairman Andy Storey said.

The Government was acting as debt collectors for foreign banks, he said.

"These debts were not incurred to run Irish public services but by private speculators chasing a quick buck - why should ordinary Irish citizens now pick up that tab?"

Rather than turning around the economies of the third world or "global south" IMF intervention had had a "pernicious impact". It has increased poverty and social inequality and reduced spending on education and the social sector in countries such as Mali and Zambia, Dr Storey said.

In contrast Argentina, which resisted IMF prescriptions when it partially defaulted on its debt in the early 2000s, boosted its economic recovery as a result.

By allowing the IMF to determine economic policy, the Government had "foreclosed on Ireland's democracy," he said. The IMF agreement had locked Ireland into a "fixed solution" denying the Irish people the right to chose economic policy regardless of who they elected.

Afri rejected suggestions that Ireland would be punished by the financial markets in the event of a bank default. The markets were currently punishing Ireland through high interest rates because it was clear they saw attempts to repay the debt as futile and unsustainable, Dr Storey said.

"Drawing a clear line between the portion of the debt that guarantees the bank bondholders, and which should not be paid, and that portion that is the Government's own debt would actually serve to calm the markets, and allow Ireland borrow the money necessary to cover government running costs at a reasonable rate of interest."



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 31st, 2010 at 10:05:23 AM EST
Of course, all anyone cares about in NI this week is whether the water comes out of the faucet...
by asdf on Fri Dec 31st, 2010 at 06:07:34 PM EST
And what they will be caring about next week, when the ice starts to melt, is whether the burst pipes are inside or outside their houses...

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Dec 31st, 2010 at 09:03:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The thaw has already come - we had a 26 degree c turnaround in temperatures in 24 hours. (-13 at 5pm on Xmas day to +13 24 hours later). The 3 foot drifts around my house melted in 3 days. Temperatures below -10 are almost unprecedented in Ireland, particularly during the day, and so it is not surprising that many pipes burst.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 31st, 2010 at 09:20:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Can't say I envy you guys waking up to that sort of new years' present from the weather gods. Still, hopefully the utilities were smart enough to go out and turn off the water main to the properties reporting (potentially) damaged pipes.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Dec 31st, 2010 at 09:30:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Householders are responsible for turning off the stopcocks to their homes.  The problem for the utilities has been that many mains burst, and the system simply hasn't got the spare capacity to bear such losses.  Hence many mains have been switched off for at least part of the day to minimise water losses whilst leaks are located and fixed. Some isolated areas haven't had water for a week.  

Fortunately I have my own well and deepwell pump and the entry point to my home is perhaps 300 mm below the ground surface.  So far that has been sufficient to prevent freezing.  The snow covering would have helped to insulate the inlet pipe.  Only a couple of above the surface waste pipes froze, but did not burst as they are not under pressure.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 31st, 2010 at 09:44:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
30 cm should suffice to dampen out the daily cycle - so as long as it's above bursting point on average, you should be fine. I did that experiment in high school, with three or four different thermometers buried at different depths, and at 30 cm the daily amplitude was less than .3 C. Though YMMV depending on soil composition. Ideally, you'd want them to be a full meter down, since that's pretty much constant temperature all year long.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Dec 31st, 2010 at 09:53:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, one meter down will come in handy in Ireland if the Gulf Stream switches off.

That'd be about right for northeast Ohio, though I look out the window and where there was snow piled up before Christmas, there is now green grass.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Jan 1st, 2011 at 04:21:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Eh, if you're gonna bury the pipes in the first place, you might as well bury them a full meter down. With mechanised digging tools it's not much more expensive, and it means that snap freezes like this won't bother you.

Unless, of course, you only have 30 cm of soil before you hit bedrock. In which case you're just SOL.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Jan 1st, 2011 at 04:50:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
water comes out of taps in NI - and out of burst pipes...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 31st, 2010 at 09:15:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We've had enough of Civil War politics and the parties arising from that conflict.

Lots of luck on that.

The US is still reverberating from the 1619 decision to use African slaves to solve the labor shortage crisis in the US drug (= nicotine, delivery system = tobacco) production and trade.

And even more so from the Civil War that decision ultimately lead to.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Sat Jan 1st, 2011 at 04:05:04 PM EST
And the actions in the late 1800's of the Republican Parties in the north to offset the squeeze play threat of the Democrats and the Progressives to entrench two-party politics.

However, we have had several switches from the Post-Civil-War partisan coalitions since 1870, with the New Deal re-alignment after the political turmoil of the turn of the century and the Reagan re-alignment after the political turmoil of the Sixties and Watergate. From what I am understanding of what Frank is saying, he is hoping for Ireland to get the first of those after the Irish Civil War alignment.

Indeed, we in the US are due for another, likely 2020-2030 given that one of the two major parties is likely to pull a Whig Party self-immolation under the stress of the early slide down from Peak Oil. I'd give it 3:2 odds of being the Democrats, since the Republicans are more lined up to be the well-funded losing side of the fight against change to the status quo.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Jan 1st, 2011 at 04:30:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Conflicts involving large scale bloodshed leave long and abiding traumatic divisions which can take generations to heal, and sometimes do not heal at all if there are institutional and class interests which continue to benefit from maintaining them.  In my view the civil war split on the Right could be becoming counterproductive from a capitalist point of view, and thus we may see  left/right realignment at the next election.  However I doubt FF will ever coalesce with FG because that would signal their own demise as the dominant political force in Ireland.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Jan 2nd, 2011 at 09:37:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And what we're going to get is "political reform" in the guise of getting rid of the Senate. <puke>  As if the Senate is the fucking problem.

We're screwed.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Jan 4th, 2011 at 08:36:12 AM EST
EU to book a hefty profit on Irish bailout - Irish, Business - Independent.ie
The European Commission will book a hefty profit on its bailout loan to Ireland after it raised €5bn at an interest rate of just 2.59pc yesterday by selling bonds.

The EU will lend the funds to Ireland at an interest rate of 5.51pc. The bonds are part of the solution to the European debt crisis but risk making it worse if demand for the low-risk bonds makes it harder for countries to borrow.



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 6th, 2011 at 12:43:39 PM EST
Is the European Commission trying to bust-up the EU?

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot
by ATinNM on Thu Jan 6th, 2011 at 02:05:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Trying? No. Doing? Weeell...

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Jan 6th, 2011 at 02:45:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The current Commission couldn't bust its way out of a paper bag. Its lack of character and conviction (other than weak conformity to "markets" doctrine) is a major part of the problem.

(Not that our elected national leaders are any better garrggl sigh...)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jan 6th, 2011 at 03:25:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem is stated right here:

Following the election of the President, and the High Representative by the same procedure, each Commissioner is nominated by their member state [NOTE: THAT'S A PROBLEM RIGHT THERE] (except for those states who provided the President and High Representative) in consultation with the Commission President, although he holds little practical power to force a change in candidate. However the more capable the candidate is, the more likely the Commission President will assign them a powerful portfolio, the distribution of which is entirely at his discretion. The President's team is then subject to hearings at the European Parliament which will question them and then vote on their suitability as a whole. If members of the team are found to be too inappropriate, the President must then reshuffle the team or request a new candidate from the member state or risk the whole Commission being voted down. As Parliament cannot vote against individual Commissioners there is usually a compromise whereby the worst candidates are removed but minor objections are put aside so the Commission can take office. Once the team is approved by parliament, it is formally put into office by the European Council (TEU Article 17:7).

Sound like a recipe for Do Nothingism at the EU level as well as a recapitulation of the US Articles of Confederation of 1781.  A flaming disaster, BTW, Tho' I can't dredge-up the exact details from memory IIRC one of the reasons for dumping the AoC was the pending collapse of the monetary system into a pile of goo.  

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Thu Jan 6th, 2011 at 04:19:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I suspect the only way to change it is by parliament to play hard-ball, ie let us decide the commission and nominate those we want to elect or we will vote it down. But to get from here to there would take election cycles, which we might not have.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!
by A swedish kind of death on Thu Jan 6th, 2011 at 04:40:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And what happens if a nation-state keeps nominating the same person and the parliament keeps voting the commission down because of that person?

Gridlock.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Fri Jan 7th, 2011 at 12:06:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The parliament has already voted one commissioner out in the confirmation hearings in each of the current and previous 5-year parliaments.

So, precedent would mean the Parliament wins.

Of all the ways of organizing banking, the worst is the one we have today — Mervyn King, 25 October 2010

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jan 7th, 2011 at 12:14:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ack.

The "Gridlock" should have ended with a question mark, not a period.


Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Fri Jan 7th, 2011 at 03:09:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The way the EU works, time is on the side of the central bureaucracy as long as it's just a single member holding up the process. While consensus decisionmaking means that a single member can, formally speaking, hold up the entire organisation, such obstructionism tends to generate massive resentment unless you can convince a sizable minority that you have a really good reason for holding up the entire process on a technicality.

Of course, if the Council were smart enough to find their own asses with two hands and a flashlight then they'd circle the waggons, and that'd be another story. But they aren't, so they don't.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Jan 7th, 2011 at 02:38:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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